QUESTION: I was raised by a demanding father. No matter what I did, I never felt as if I measured up. It was like he wanted me to be perfect. As an adult, I never feel as if I can measure up. I so desperately don't want to do the same thing to my kids, but I'm afraid I will unless I can find a way to stop feeling so anxious about not doing everything perfect. How do I break this cycle?
ANSWER: First, it's important to recognize the source of a lot of perfectionistic behavior. For many people, trying to be perfect is a means to covering shame. Instead of wholly relying on God's grace as a source of forgiveness and heart-cleansing, perfectionistic people rely on themselves and their striving to reach a flawless existence. Unfortunately, perfectionists often believe God expects them to be perfect and are consumed with feelings of degradation, loneliness, and guilt. Therefore, perfectionism can serve as a mask to cover pain.
The best way to begin the deliverance process is to talk with your dad about the issues that drove his perfection. Unfortunately, that is often a hard task to accomplish. If your father will not or cannot talk with you or seek counseling, then begin talking to someone about these issues on your own.
Often in these type situations, the children will bear the pain of the parent. Even if you have no clue what is driving your father to perfectionism, you very likely are experiencing his anxiety, insecurity, and shame; and these emotions will drive you to repeat your father's patterns. That is why counseling is so important in overcoming this pattern of behavior. Discovering the root cause of the perfectionistic behavior will be pivotal to your eventual deliverance.
I applaud your concern for your children. You are in a good place for beginning the process of breaking a generational behavioral cycle. First, it's important for you to have age-appropriate conversations with them about these family issues. So many times the best avenue to breaking generational cycles of behavior is by honestly communicating truth. This is one of the reasons Christ said, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Second, don't be afraid to admit when you have reacted out of perfectionism, rather than reason. Your children will respect you more for admitting you have been wrong and self-correcting your parenting patterns than if you leave the behavior uncorrected.
Furthermore, begin the process of changing your self-talk. Every time you catch yourself mentally demanding perfection, replace those negative thoughts with statements such as, “I cannot reach perfection, but I will offer my best effort and pray that the Lord will give me grace for my flaws. And father, please heal me of the guilt and shame that are causing me to seek perfection as a cure.”
Finally, claim Psalm 103: 13-14 for your theme verse: “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.” Take comfort in knowing that the Lord sees your every imperfection and loves you anyway.
The author of 54 books, Debra White Smith holds an M.A. from U.T. and is the featured relationship specialist on the Fox News Radio Show, “Plain Jane Wisdom.” She and her husband, Daniel, co-pastor Palestine Church of the Nazarene. For more information, visit www.debrawhitesmith.com. Got a problem? E-mail Debra at firstname.lastname@example.org